5 A.M. GAMING: ‘State of Decay 2’ – A Tale of Two Communities

“I’m home and I’m not dead, my two favourite things.” – Vegas, State of Decay 2

I concur, Vegas, I concur. For the last five years, 2013’s State of Decay has been one of my favourite games to bounce back into between marathon 200-plus hour titles. With the addition of DLCs Breakdown (also 2013) and Lifeline (2014), the replayability factor jumped ten-fold, and who doesn’t like the satisfying crack-squish of a rotten zombie cranium crunching under the force of a melee weapon? Then there’s the screaming-at-the-screen factor, because while you command a team of ragtag survivors, when they die, they aren’t coming back and their skills and special abilities are going into the great digital beyond with them. In no other zombie game are deaths so utterly soul-wrenching.

So needless to say, when State of Decay 2 was announced, I was excited. So stoked, in fact, that I proclaimed to my husband that we may have to buy an Xbox One just so I could play it. And I would have done that had it not also been released for Windows. So, how does State of Decay 2 add up? Allow me to tell you a tale a two communities.

The Refugees

Despite my years of experience with SoD, it’s always good to play the tutorial to discover what’s new. So, for my first community that’s just what I did, settling on a pair of lesbian ex-lovers for my inaugural two survivors. As they battled their way to their first safe house/base, I learned about infectious plague zombies (and the plague hearts that spawn them) and that cars can now run of gas. Of course, it wasn’t too long before the deaths started…

First there was Chang. In a horrible moment of ill-timed real-world interruptus, my daughter wanders into the office at the exact moment I discover not all survivors are friendly and I’m suddenly face to muzzle with a very long shotgun. I tell my kid to find her dad and turn my head back to the screen. It’s full night, which somehow seems darker and scarier than in the first game, and firearms are flaring. In seconds, we’re surrounded not only by hostile humans but also ravenous zombies attracted by all the noise and seeking a midnight snack. I try to get my bearings. I try to somehow attack the humans and zombies at the same time. Suddenly, Chang is down. No wait, Chang’s not down, she’s dead. And now I’m down too. Panic settles in my chest. My enclave only has four people. What will happen if we lose two? Somehow I manage to drag myself back up to my feet, four zombies hot on my trail as I limp-run back to my truck, barely making it inside to drive to safety and completely blow the mission. Sorry Chang, guess you’ll never get back together with your ex-girlfriend now. Worse still, I didn’t dare go back for her body.

Ashley was next. She was my right-hand gal on my first plague heart job. In a way, I see her death as somewhat inevitable; SoD2 warns you that plague hearts are difficult, but no matter how hard you think they’ll be to destroy, they are ten times harder. Seriously, bring a whole backpack full of military grade weapons and explosives or become our friend Ashley. In truth, the zombies only killed her the first time, turning her into a flesh-muncher just as hungry for my brains as the rest of them. I then ran her over with my car, killing her for the second and final time. Let’s consider it an act of mercy.

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My beloved bunny-hoodie-wearing blade maestro Roni’s death followed mere moments later while fleeing the scene of her friend’s horrific demise. Just a block from home, I’m violently torn from the driver’s seat of my moving vehicle by a horde of zombies and very quickly ripped to gory pieces. I’m in shock. Did that really just happen? No, no, no. But alas, it did.

Back at home, everyone is depressed, having just lost a third of our population. And so am I, to be honest. (Roni, you and I were going to be such a thing.) I decide the only thing to do is move the enclave halfway across the map to a new domicile, so we don’t have to constantly drive past our dead. This does not cheer anyone up. We also now have a problem with behemoths (those hulking, hard-to-kill zombies that are impervious even to cars smashing into them), and not enough skilled fighters to deal with them. I sense more death in our immediate future, and decide to restart the game with a new community and everything I’ve learned from this failed first one. Which brings us to…

The Survivors
Right from the start things go much better when I find a pair of pick-up trucks with snowplow attachments. As awkward as they handle, they are deadly to zombies, and able to take a lot more head-on damage than your standard car or truck (which are considerably more scarce here than in SoD, so beware of flipping them over; repair kits have been added, however, so there’s now an easy way to fix the engine and get the doors back on provided you have the right workshop and materials).

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I learn from my mistakes and stay the hell away from plague hearts, focusing instead on gathering materials, fortifying my base, meeting and helping the neighbours (while being careful to avoid the hostile ones), clearing infestations, and building up my characters’ skills and reputation (because once they max out, they become a hero with special power-ups). This is one of the things that feels most satisfying about SoD2 (apart from the zombie carnage, of course), developer Undead Labs doesn’t reinvent the wheel here but rather takes all those things we loved about the original game and makes them a bit deeper and more complex (bases have a lot more customization and upgrade options available, for instance). It’s the same SoD you know, but with a different map, slightly better graphics, and a somewhat raised difficulty level.

Our community chugs along until we move to a new bigger space on the other side of the map, then we discover that our long-time friends are in fact cannibals (to be honest, I already suspected that) and they now want to eat us. And thus begins human-killing on a scale not present in the original game. And it feels bad. Not so much with the cannibals, but definitely at that house our neighbours asked us to check out. Still, if those survivors hadn’t come out guns blazing…

Our enclave survives two behemoth attacks, which feel like the SoD2 equivalent of a much-hated team building exercise, and life goes on at our base – well-stocked and nine people strong. Thing is, two weeks into our survival, we still don’t have leader. I’m holding out for one with the leader perk I want (each character grants slightly different room bonuses for your base when assigned to the leader position). We’re now building up our reputation so we can commandeer a power station for an outpost and electrify our home. It’s good to have goals, but we’re always reminded those plague hearts are waiting.

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Some final thoughts on State of Decay 2

It’s fun, dead fun, but it also crashes worse and harder than any other game I’ve run on my now-year-old Alienware rig. Everything from failing to launch when my computer has been on for more than a couple of days, to freezing mid-game and forcing me to hard reboot my system. The save system is relatively robust though, so despite losing any progress on the current mission, the crashes are more annoying than catastrophic from a gameplay perspective. I suspect it might be much more stable on the Xbox.

And there’s one last thing that SoD2 really deserves to be lauded for: its diversity. A broad range of races are represented in the characters you meet during your survival journey, and the game is better for it. Their personalities and quips, as exemplified by the quote at the beginning of this piece, are funny and endearing, and a big reason why – apart from their skills – it’s so crushing when one of them dies tragically.

Not a perfect game, largely due the crashes and odd glitches (doors that appear open, for instance, but are actually closed), but if you’re a fan of the original and don’t find the day-to-day business of scavenging to survive too mundane, you’ll definitely want to pick up the pipe wrench for this one. And don’t forget, once you build up your stockpile of firearms, always aim for the head!

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